Life Cycle of Stadium Could Lead to Brighter Future
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Earlier this year, at the height of their power, before the slow decline of age and injury had fully set in, the Yankees were valued by Forbes magazine at $1.3 billion, on the back of an estimated 2007 revenue of $327 million. This is another way of saying for every $40,000 of American GDP, one dollar came into the team’s hands, which is another way of saying that for all the attention they draw as the richest team in the richest city in the richest nation in the world, the Yankees are — judged in the fair scope of things — barely a going concern.
It was hard not to think of this last night as the Yankees played their final game in their old park, the famous Yankee Stadium, at the very moment a second Gilded Age was ending, with all the consequences that implies for the rich city, the rich nation, and the rich team.
Among many other things, the old yard has always been a symbol of the raw power of American capital. There were days when that meant that a product of Baltimore orphanages such as Babe Ruth, or a first-generation immigrant such as Joe DiMaggio, or a child of the Dust Bowl such as Mickey Mantle, or a refugee from communism such as Orlando Hernandez, could force his way onto the grandest stage in American sports driven by nothing but his talent and will. This is why Yankee Stadium was always something more than a heap of steel and plaster in a dodgy neighborhood.
There were also, though, days when the old park represented something far less inspiring. When it was torn down and rebuilt in the 1970s on the public dime, it was made over into a monument to privatized profit and socialized loss, and as New York roared atop serial booms in technology, real estate, and finance over the last decade, it came to serve as a monument to exclusion and to gross, unthinking excess. Bankers broke deals in federally subsidized luxury boxes, players raked in tens of millions more than they were worth on the field, and that part of the public that could scrape its way into the park cheered them all on not just as the economy roared and the Yankees won championship after championship but even as the economy stalled, and as the Yankees deteriorated into an overpaid collection of subprime talent that couldn’t manage its way into the second round of a playoff series.
Eventually, as all bills must, these came due. From spring to summer to fall this year, the bankers watched their banks collapse and the fans watched their team collapse, first in slow motion and then with horrid speed. Whatever part of New York and America it was that Yankee Stadium stood for in the public imagination, it came dangerously close to complete collapse as Wall Street sucked in first tens, and then hundreds, and then thousands of billions of dollars from the public, while the team on the field succumbed to such prosaic concerns as the lame throwing arms of the old catcher Jorge Posada and the young pitcher Joba Chamberlain, watching tens of millions disappear as such bad investments as Carl Pavano and Kei Igawa returned not so much as a dime on the dollar.
At the height of their financial power, the Yankees are paying their players more than $30 million above what the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays are playing theirs, combined. That they could lose so much, so soon, having been warned so often about what would happen if they continued to sink their resources into old and sketchy players, makes them as good a parable for what’s happened around them in the last year as could be imagined.
Baseball, though, is thankfully not finance, and the mistakes a team makes can always be wiped away quickly. The great citadel of excess is gone, as of today, and however greater the newer citadel of excess a block north is, it carries with it the promise of a new beginning. Within weeks, the Yankees’ books will be clear of tens of millions of dollars in bad investments, and more importantly the great illusion that an endless flow of money can solve fundamental problems will be gone. That carries with it immense promise.
Next year, the Yankees, having endured the nearly catastrophic collapse that they’ve been warned of for years, will be younger, less well paid, chastened, and likely worse than they were even this year. But they’ll be better positioned for the long run. They may succeed, and they may well fail, but they’ll be within their means, and built on a more solid foundation than they have been for years. Whatever the end of their old park and the rise of their new one might represent, with any luck, it will point up how even the barely going concerns can show the way for the great ones. At their best, that’s what the Yankees have done. One can hope they’ll do so again.